Reading(s): 2 Corinthians 8.7 - end and Mark 5. 21 - end. This sermon was given by Linda Klein at St Denys, Chilworth.
I’m going to take a look at our Gospel reading, from Mark, and explore the account of the two miracles Jesus performed in it. First though, let’s give some context to the two intertwined, but very different, stories.
Matthew, Mark and Luke all record these two miracles, and Mark provides the most detail. We’re still fairly early in Jesus' ministry at this stage, but he has already performed other healings and miracles. Earlier the same day he drove out demons from a possessed man and it was probably the previous evening that he calmed the storm when he was crossing the sea of Galilee with the disciples. So his reputation is known, and a large crowd awaits him when he steps off the boat having arrived back in Galilee.
Immediately he is approached by Jairus, a leader of the synagogue in Galilee, who humbly falls to his knees and begs Jesus to go with him to lay his hands on his dying daughter, “so that she may be made well, and live”, Jairus says. In fact Matthew reports her already dead, but anyway, there is a great sense of urgency, and Jesus agrees to go with Jairus. As a person of considerable standing and authority in the Jewish community, by making his plea, Jairus demonstrates his faith in Jesus' greater authority, even though Jesus would certainly still have been considered merely an itinerant preacher by many.
The large crowd follows them as they begin to make their way to Jairus' home, and Luke tells us they almost crushed Jesus. Somehow though, with a huge effort of will and faith, a sick woman manages to make her way through and touch Jesus' cloak, believing that this was all she would need to do in order to be made well. She has been suffering from what some versions of the Bible call “an issue of blood”, others refer to it as a “haemorrhage”, for 12 years and she has sought medical help, spent all her money seeking a cure, but in vain; she is still afflicted. And if we consider what this means for her for just a moment, it goes far deeper than the physical and practical difficulties of 12 years of losing blood. But those alone would mean she almost certainly suffered with anaemia and was weak, and probably smelly too, today’s feminine accessories not being available to her, or indeed hot and cold running water.
And this affliction means that she is permanently unclean, under Mosaic law as recorded in Leviticus. If anyone touched her, or sat where she had sat, they too became unclean and had to perform ritual cleansing after sunset. Why would they take the risk? So she probably has no friends, no source of income and is reduced to begging, no company, and is lonely and devoid of any social contact. She is a pariah, and she also cannot enter a place of worship and so she will have been cut off from spiritual comfort too. And she definitely shouldn’t be out in a crowd, but she has decided to take her chance, the one chance she believes she has, to be healed. She believes that if she can only touch Jesus, and not even Jesus himself, just something he’s wearing will do, then she will be cured. She’s taking a huge risk, but she has nothing to lose; things cannot be worse.
So she forces her way through, doubtless touching very many people as she goes, and then she arrives at her goal and touches Jesus' cloak. Mark reports, “Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering”, which is an interesting insight and I imagine someone who was present at the time must have spoken to her and recorded exactly what she said about the miraculous event. We don’t know if the author of Mark’s Gospel was an eye witness during Jesus' ministry, but it is commonly thought that his account was based on an eye witness' report, possibly Peter, who might well have spoken to the woman; but this is speculation; we can’t be sure.
Jesus knows something has happened. He feels his strength leave him and he turns and asks who touched him. And the woman, who is never named, incidentally, realises that she has to own up, has to speak publicly about her dreadfully embarrassing illness and also admit to her social status, and explain why she felt she had to touch Jesus. She is terrified and trembling and she also falls at his feet, as Jairus did a little earlier. Jesus hears her out and then, touchingly, calls her “daughter” and tells her her faith has healed her and that she should go in peace, freed from her suffering.
This must all have been very frustrating for Jairus, desperate as he is to get Jesus to his dying daughter. And will the loss of strength which has been accidentally and involuntarily expended on the woman, mean Jesus now lacks the ability to help the child? Well we are about to find out, but we know anyway, don’t we, that Jesus' power is infinite and just because he felt some strength leave him, doesn’t mean he is in any way reduced or less powerful. People have come out from Jairus' house to tell him not to bother Jesus any more because his daughter is now dead, but Jesus isn’t put off by this and tells Jairus not to be afraid, but only to believe.
And this really is a much simpler story than the previous one, and ends quickly and successfully with Jesus telling the apparently dead child to get up, which she does, and walks around. He tells the parents to give her something to eat, and not to tell anyone what has happened.
This is a regular feature following healing and raising miracles and is probably to prevent news of Jesus' works spreading too far and causing ever greater crowds to congregate and prevent him moving around freely and continuing his God given ministry. He has work to do, after all.
So we’ve observed two miracles here, carried out in a very short space of time, both initiated by the faith and humility of the two people needing or requesting them, but how very different those two people are. One is a senior official in the synagogue, the other an unclean social outcast. Jesus makes no distinction between them. Jesus doesn’t require importance, social standing, cleanliness, smart dress, expensive gifts or payments; he requires faith, and faith alone. Jesus' authority overrides any earthly authority and reveals itself when we believe. This is why Jairus' daughter was raised from the dead and the woman was healed.
But this brings us to the rather difficult question of why Jesus can’t just heal everyone. Why are some people privileged with healing, or a return from death, and not others? How many other sick people brushed up against Jesus in that crowd and yet were not healed? Why weren’t they? Jesus talks about faith being the catalyst for the desired effect, but who’s to say that the woman’s faith, and Jairus' faith are greater than anyone else’s in the crowd?
It all seems rather random and arbitrary, doesn’t it? So I pondered over this, and I read various opinions on it, and this is the very best I came up with (I’d like to say it was my own thinking, but truly it wasn’t and I take no credit): Jesus is not about this world, but rather the next. Everyone he healed will die, sooner or later, and everyone he raised from the dead will die again, finally. Our focus should not, therefore, be on anything worldly, not wealth, possessions, appearances, even health or longevity. It should be on putting all of those things aside and purely ensuring that we are ready and in the right state for what is to come after death.
He came, he says, to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God; that was his primary purpose. And, as Christians, that should be our primary purpose too. We should be waiting for the right opportunity to spread the word, invite a non-believer to come to church with us, tell someone what we believe in, and why. And we should be doing whatever we can to shed and share those earthly riches and do some good with them, rather than hoarding up what we know we can’t take with us.
We are going to a better place. And that’s why Jesus' ministry was not
all about healing and raising people, but he was compassionate, and
sometimes he responded to genuine requests made by faithful followers.
Ultimately he had to move on to his true ministry. He didn’t come to
make heaven on earth and we mustn’t expect that. That doesn’t mean we
shouldn’t pray for miracles of healing, and we know that prayer is
answered. It’s not always answered in the ways we wanted or expected
though, and that’s because God knows better than we do what we need,
which might be very different from what we want. We have to trust, have
faith, that he really does know what he’s doing, but whatever happens to
us here on earth is transitory. The best is yet to come. Amen